Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Old Apartment

The first, and only, apartment Karen and I had in Chicago was in a two-flat on the corner of School and Paulina Streets right off Lincoln Avenue near where it intersected at Belmont and Ashland Avenues.  It was owned by a married couple that were Karen’s friends from when she grew-up.  It was on the first floor and rather small.  It was billed as two-bedroom but I think that was stretching things a bit. It had a nice kitchen with black and white checkered floors like a diner, and a decent size front room with wood floors and stained glassed above the picture window. The bathroom had a cool antique claw-footed tub. The main bedroom was truly that.  A queen-sized bed would barely fit in there and would touch the walls on three sides. The second bedroom was more of an alcove under the stairs that led up to the second flat.  The first time we visited to look at the apartment I asked the wife, “Why does this closet have a window and a closet?  Also, where is the second bedroom?” She said, “You’re standing in it.”  Despite its size, it did have a laundry in the basement, a nice yard out back, was close to the elevated train and where Karen worked as an HR person in a cap and gown factory.  The rent was very cheap; under $500 a month. It was actually very charming place, so we signed a lease. 

At first I lived in the apartment alone.  I moved there in early spring.  We were to be married in September. Karen kept some casual clothes in the apartment and she came in every evening after work. When it started getting late she would get in her convertible and drive home to her parents’ house for the night. In those days I didn’t have much furniture.  The first thing we bought for the apartment was a bed. It did just fit in the bedroom.  You had to crawl onto it or kind of throw yourself into it. Otherwise all I pretty much had was some lawn furniture, my typewriter, a stereo Karen had bought me for a graduation gift, and my chest and desk from back home.  There was also the Boston Celtics mini-basket that my friends bought me as a housewarming gift.  What home should be without that?  Little by little people donated couches, futons, tables and chairs that we could use until we could afford new furniture, which we did over time.

After we were married and Karen moved into the apartment there was a little bit of an adjustment period.  During my last year at school and the six months before we got married I had lived alone, so I was a bit set in my ways that were sometimes different from the way Karen did things. Both she and I learned a lot of things and compromised a lot during the first year we lived together.  One day I went into the kitchen and found Karen staring into the single sink that was there.  I asked her, “What’s the matter?”  She laughed and said, “It occurs to me I have never lived anywhere without a dishwasher. I’m not sure I know how to do a full load of dishes in a single sink.”  We learned to split up chores.  She handled the laundry, which I hate doing, and I washed the dishes and ironed the pleats in her skirts.  The rest we did together.  Karen moved her clothes into the only closet we had in the apartment and I moved my suits to a rod I hung in the pantry in the kitchen.

Karen and I grew to love our little apartment and our neighborhood. We have a lot of good memories of those early days together.  After work we always tried to time things out so that Karen met me at the el stop and we walked home together.  Later on when Karen started working in the Loop we would meet on a platform and ride home together.  We always went down Lincoln Avenue rather than Paulina because that’s where all the interesting stores and restaurants were.   Sometimes on Fridays we would stop into this funny little bar called the Duck Club and have a glass of wine before we went home for dinner.  On certain days the workers in the bakery, Dinkels, would wave us in and give us remnants of the fantastic bread they made there that they weren’t going to be able to sell.  One rainy day we were both clad in raincoats, sharing an umbrella, and went into Meyer’s delicatessen to buy some cheese.  Mr. Meyer was quite a character.  He was an older man always forgot to take off his hat when he was excited about something new he liked for his store.  His wife always shouted, “Meyer, your hat!  On that stormy day Mr. Meyer had discovered some stilton he liked.  He offered some to me and Karen. Then he said, “We can’t eat stilton without port! “  We spent about a half hour there talking to the Meyers, eating cheese, and drinking port from small little glasses.

A favorite story of mine is somewhat surreal.  It was Saturday.  I decided to lie down for a nap.  I was just falling asleep when Karen came in all agitated.  “Thomas, you have to come quickly!”  I jumped up and followed her into the kitchen to find it raining.  Not outside but in the kitchen.  It was splashing off of counters and tables and all over the floor. I stood for a minute trying to comprehend what was going on.  “Hmm…that’s not something you see every day.  Let me run upstairs and get someone.”  Our landlord was an architect and he was rehabbing their apartment and the attic.  He had just had a dishwasher installed and apparently whoever did it was not was not the most competent of plumbers.  The water got quickly turned off and fortunately nothing was ruined. We had a good laugh and we got a break on our rent that month.

Not all of my memories of the old apartment are positive. The day we were robbed is not a good memory.  It was a week day in the summer.  Karen and I went straight home after work because we were both very tired.  When we let ourselves into the flat, I could immediately tell something was wrong.  Furniture had been moved around, things on my desk were messed up and Karen’s jewelry box was open.  I went into the kitchen and saw the back door to our apartment and the one to the backyard was open and all busted up.  The back door of each of our apartments led to an enclosed wooden stairway between the two apartments and down to the basement where the washer and dryer were.  I called the police. We did an inventory of what of might’ve been taken.  It was very strange.  Of all the TVs, stereos, cameras, architectural equipment, expensive tools and computers we all had, the only thing they took was some costume jewelry of Karen’s and a jar of change that that our landlord had on his drawing table.   The most valuable thing they took was an opal ring that Karen had been given by her parents as a birthday present.  When she found that it was gone, she started to cry. “I said I am sorry, honey.”  She sat down.  She said “I’m sad very sad my ring is gone, I loved it. I just can’t stand this feeling that some stranger violated our home.”  The police came and when they were done taking a report one of the officers said, “Based on what they took, chances are it was a bored kid or a group of kids. You probably scared them off when you came home.”  Even though we had stronger locks installed I had a hard time sleeping for several nights. I lay in bed with my eyes open and my arm protectively draped across Karen until very late.

Karen and I lived in the apartment for almost three years before we got our first house not more than eight blocks away.  On the day we moved our friends all came and helped us to clean and cart our things over to the new place.  When the last load was gone Karen and I stood in the front room, in the colors on the floor created by the sun coming through the stain-glass window. We talked about all the fun experiences we had in that tiny little apartment as newlyweds. After we were done, we went outside, locked the door and placed our keys through the mail slot of our landlords’ door.  Then we got into the convertible and drove off to the next chapter of our married life.